How in the world will Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat recover from LeBron James' departure?

Kelly Dwyer
July 11, 2014
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Dwyane Wade has not yet officially re-joined the Miami Heat. (Getty Images)

This is not what Dwyane Wade had in mind when he opted out of the final two years of the six-year, $107 million deal he signed in the summer of 2010. This is not what he thought was going to happen when he willingly passed on a guaranteed $41.8 million, spread out over two years, earlier this summer. This is not the fallout that he expected after dragging his bum knees up and down the court during last month’s fruitless Finals trip.

There is a very real chance, now that LeBron James has moved onto the Cleveland Cavaliers, that Dwyane Wade will be staring down the same mess that he had to preside over in Miami from 2007 until James and Chris Bosh came to South Beach in 2010. Save for the part about Dwyane Wade being, at worst, the second best shooting guard and fourth or fifth best player in the NBA during that term. Yes, the Miami Heat will have cap space after they presumably sign Wade back to the only NBA team he’s ever known, but for whom?

Luol Deng? Trevor Ariza? Some convoluted sign and trade that would bring in a disgruntled star? If you’re Kevin Love, the league’s most disgruntled of its many stars, would you commit to a longer term deal in Miami after watching Wade’s disappearing act in the 2014 Finals? Wade’s failure to contribute at a Dwyane Wade-ish level, at least offensively, was not his fault. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a disappearing act, though.

It may have been a distasteful move, especially after meeting with Wade several times as he deliberated his options, but one can’t blame LeBron James for running away again. He wants to play for winners, he wants to cement that he’ll have necessary help as he enters his 30s, and Wade just isn’t as reliable as he used to be.

What’s worst? The Miami Heat did everything they were supposed to do with D-Wade in 2013-14.

He sat out 28 games, half of which were for precautionary measures. He averaged less than 33 minutes a game, and Miami’s first- and second-round opponents barely gave the defending champions pause, as Wade was allowed to play just nine games spread out over 31 days between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the Eastern Conference finals.

He should have been primed. He should have been rested. Everything was in order for him to dominate in the Finals, as he did in the third round against the Indiana Pacers – the NBA’s best defensive team during the regular season.

Instead, Wade fell short. When LeBron James went down with cramps in Game 1, Wade could not take over. When LeBron sat, Dwyane Wade failed to become “D-Wade.” As the Spurs romped and the Heat relented, we were reminded of the fact that Dwyane Wade has knee issues dating back to his college years, that he has played deep into the playoffs for most of his 11-year career, and that his reckless style was never going to age well. And that, for years before LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, Dwyane Wade had to carry the Miami Heat – whether it was to a championship, or the NBA’s draft lottery.

LeBron James is three years younger than Wade, which may not seem like a ton. In NBA years, however, those three years can feel like the difference between a sixth-grader and a teenager set to earn his learner’s permit. James and Wade may have entered the NBA at the same time, and LeBron (as we saw when his own wheels understandably failed him during the Finals) has an incredible amount of tread on his tires for a 29-year old, but the two are worlds apart.

Strange to say, after they commiserated prior to Wade, James and Bosh’s opt-out, and after they were seen breaking bread in Las Vegas earlier in the week. Returning to Miami was never going to be an easy option for James – the mythical “point guard that can space the floor” and “big man that can defend the rim” weren’t really on the open market to sign or trade for – and though Cleveland still needs a while to sort out its prospects around LeBron, moving back to the Heat would be seen as copping to a well-compensated bit of stasis for James.

“Stasis” at best, if we’re honest, because whatever Heat fans are left can only hope that Wade approximates what he gave Miami last year in 2014-15. And that’s assuming he re-signs with the only team he’s ever known, with the vultures with cap space circling and after Pat Riley could muster only a worn down Danny Granger and goofball high post passer in Josh McRoberts to start his offseason turn.

In most other summers, Riley would have options. James is gone, that’s gotta hurt, while Wade and Bosh have yet to re-sign, and nobody knows what sort of devilish agreement Udonis Haslem made with the Heat front office prior to his opting out of $4.6 million next season. Only Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton, Granger, and McRoberts have agreed to contracts for next season. In any other summer, Riley could drop that bag of championship rings on the table and entice yet another set of stars to join Wade in one of the most wonderful places in the world to be a multi-millionaire in.

Those stars aren’t out there, though. As we saw earlier in July, those role players aren’t even out there. This NBA free agency period is like the 2013-14 Miami Heat – breathtaking at its top, what with the Heat’s three, Carmelo Anthony, and Dirk Nowitzki ostensibly available, but woefully low on depth beyond that.

The Eastern Conference is improving, but it's still lacking overall. A team featuring Dwyane Wade and a series of smart role players, well-coached by Erik Spoelstra, could still compete on most nights, but that’s not a playoff team. Chris Bosh heading to the Rockets seems like an absolute given at this point, as we await word of the teams looking to make Houston’s day by fulfilling trade agreements for Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. And unless Dwyane Wade has a complete and total change of heart, he’ll be stuck in Miami once again, wondering who Riley will eventually find to work alongside him in the fight to play until June again.

This isn’t the summer of 2004, when Shaquille O’Neal was on his way and Wade was coming off an inspiring rookie year. This isn’t the summer of 2010, when Wade was neck and neck with Kobe Bryant for the league’s best shooting guard, and not far behind the incoming LeBron James in acting as the game’s best player.

It is 2014, Dwyane Wade has been in the league for 11 years, and his friend and former teammate just left to go play with a bunch of kids in Cleveland. Even if it seems obvious in retrospect, this was not how Dwyane Wade saw this story ending.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!